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Regensburg and Regensburg II:

Trying to Reconcile Irreconcilable Differences on Justification

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Is faith efficacious because it apprehends Christ or because it transforms? Regensburg wanted it both ways.

When in 1618 the Reformed theologian J. H. Alsted (1588-1638) declared that the Protestant doctrine of justification is that "article of faith by which the church stands or falls" (articulus stantis et candentis ecclesiae), he was only repeating what all Protestants had learned from Martin Luther and what all true Protestants and evangelicals still believe. (1)


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1 [ Back ] A. E. McGrath has refuted the claim (repeated recently by R. J. Neuhaus) that this was an eighteenth century Lutheran expression belonging to V. E. Loescher (1673-1749). In fact Luther said virtually the same thing. See A. E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 2 vol. (Oxford, 1986), 2.193, n.3; R. J. Neuhaus, "The Catholic Difference," in C. Colson and R. J. Neuhaus, ed., Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward A Common Mission (Dallas: Word 1995), 226, n.22.
2 [ Back ] See H. G. Anderson et al., Justification By Faith: Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII (Minneapolis, 1985); K. Lehmann and W. Pannenberg, The Condemnations of the Reformation Era: Do They Still Divide? trans. M. Kohl (Minneapolis, 1989); C. Colson and R. J. Neuhaus, ed., Evangelicals and Catholics Together.
3 [ Back ] See P. Matheson, Cardinal Contarini at Regensburg (Oxford, 1972).
4 [ Back ] The need for theology to serve a social-cultural agenda was not just a sixteenth century phenomenon. It is evident from Chuck Colson's essay in Evangelicals and Catholics Together that social-cultural concerns are more important than theological questions such as justification.
5 [ Back ] Melanchthon and Eck had already worked out an agreement on original sin at Worms, in January 1541. There was a formal consensus among the magisterial medieval theologians on Augustine's doctrine of original sin. The question was not whether we are sinners (that is a distinctly modern question) but rather the question was on the effects of sin. The dominant medieval doctrine of salvation was not Pelagian, strictly speaking (i.e., denying that "in Adam's fall sinned we all"), but semi-Pelagian. It affirmed original sin, but like many movements afterward, denied the consequences of original sin, i.e., total inability to cooperate with grace.
6 [ Back ] De iustificatione hominis. See C. G. Bretschneider, ed. Corpus Reformatorum. 101 vol. (Halle, 1834-1959) 4.198-201. Hereafter abbreviated CR. A portion of Article 5 is also published in B. J. Kidd, ed., Documents Illustrative of the Continental Reformation (Oxford, 1911), 343-4.
7 [ Back ] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 3.3.2. 1987, 1989.
8 [ Back ] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 3.3.2. 1991.
9 [ Back ] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 3.3.2. 1993. This section also quotes Trent 6.7.
10 [ Back ] See L. C. Green, "Faith, Righteousness and Justification: New Light on their Development Under Luther and Melanchthon," Sixteenth Century Journal 4 (1973): 65-86.
11 [ Back ] There is debate among scholars as to whether Gropper actually taught double justification. Cf. E. Yarnold, "Duplex iustitia: The Sixteenth Century and the Twentieth," in G. R. Evans ed., Christian Authority: Essays in Honour of Henry Chadwick (Oxford, 1988); A. E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 2.57.
12 [ Back ] Gropper's doctrine of duplex iustitia developed from c.1538 to 1544 to include imputation and infusion of justice. See Yarnold, 208-9.
13 [ Back ] Romans 4:5 says, in part, in the Vulgate: "iustificat impium."
14 [ Back ] W. P. Stephens, The Holy Spirit in the Theology of Martin Bucer (Cambridge, 1970), 49. See also idem, 53.
15 [ Back ] See M. Luther, De duplici iusitia ("Two Kinds of Righteousness") in Luther's Works, ed. J. Pelikan and H. T. Lehmann et al., 55 vol. (St. Louis/Philadelphia, 1955-75), 31.297-306.
16 [ Back ] Stephens, 55.
17 [ Back ] G. Contarini, Epistola de iustificatione, in G. Contareni Cardinalis Opera (Paris, 1571), 588. Cited in Yarnold, 211.
18 [ Back ] CR, 4.198.
19 [ Back ] CR, 4.199.
20 [ Back ] CR, 4.199.
21 [ Back ] CR, 4.199.
22 [ Back ] CR, 4.199.
23 [ Back ] CR, 4.199. The doctrine of faith as the instrument of justification was essential to Protestantism. Trent would later reject this language altogether to teach that baptism is the instrument of justification. See Canones et decreta concilii Tridentini (Leipzig, 1860), 28.
24 [ Back ] CR, 99-200.256.7; "et non modo reputamur, sed vere iusti" (Canones et decreta concilii Tridentini), 28.
25 [ Back ] McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 2.61.
26 [ Back ] Ironically, J. I. Packer's essay in Evangelicals and Catholics Together is a similar attempt to interpret ECT I in a Protestant way.
27 [ Back ] See Heidelberg Catechism, Questions 21, 60, 65, 86.
28 [ Back ] See, Yarnold, Duplex iustitia, 222-23. In a recent audiotaped discussion of ECT held at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, John Woodbridge, one of the signers of "The Gift of Salvation," appealed to Regensburg as a precedent. See also M. A. Noll, "The History of An Encounter: Roman Catholics and Evangelicals," in Evangelicals and Catholics Together, 85, 101.


R. Scott Clark is professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California). He is author of Recovering the Reformed Confession (P&R, 2008).

Issue: "Unity in the Truth: Ecumenism Without Compromise" Sept./Oct. 1998 Vol. 7 No. 5 Page number(s): 5-8

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